February 11, 2017
If you haven’t seen John Wick – wait, what have you been doing with your life? Watch it now! If you have seen John Wick, then you’re obviously already pumped for Chapter 2. Now, prepare to be even more so because it’s an awesome, wild ride!
John Wick: Chapter 2 has everything you want in a sequel.
The saga of our favorite perpetually un-retiring hitman continues as John Wick is lured back into the savage underworld from which he has tried to escape, this time in order to repay a blood oath from years before. (Thankfully, the movie doesn’t waste much time on this will-he-or-won’t-he dilemma, because we all know he will and that’s exactly what we want him to do. We don’t want to see Keanu Reeves in an emotional struggle. We want to see Keanu Reeves shoot a bunch of people.) Soon enough, John Wick ends up in Rome with a bounty on his own head and a league of deadly assassins coming after him.
Returning to direct is Chad Stahelski (Keanu’s stunt double in The Matrix Trilogy) and he sticks to the same practical stunts and martial arts fight choreography that made the original great but also ups the ante with even more brutality and more threatening adversaries. The main villain is mastermind Santino D’Antonio (Italian newcomer Riccardo Scamarcio) but the most dangerous and memorable is fellow hired gun Cassian (Common, in a breakout performance that will no doubt have him headlining his own action movies soon). The John Woo influence is also felt even heavier in this entry, with lots of pigeons, slo-mo walking shots, and “gun fu” standoffs, all going down in elaborately psychedelic environments like a laser-lit rock concert among Roman ruins and a labyrinthine hall of mirrors reminiscent of Conan the Destroyer.
The producers made the right choice in bringing screenwriter Derek Kolstad back to pen the script. After having created such colorful characters and a cool alt-world for them to inhabit, this time around he gets to dive even deeper into the graphic novel-style mythology of his consortium of contract killers. Part of the beauty of the original was its simplicity, but the sequel, with its added depth and complexities, is an equally rewarding experience since it feels like a totally new one, not just a rehash of the original. For example, in the first chapter, John Wick sledgehammers his way to the secret stash of guns in his basement. In Chapter 2, we get a incredible extended montage of John Wick interacting with various company specialists as he acquires the necessary weaponry, wardrobe, and blueprints for his…job, all in coded hitman-speak. Both scenes are fantastic but in completely different ways.
Still, there are plenty of winking callbacks to the original and all of your favorite [surviving] characters return like body shop owner John Leguizamo (Romeo + Juliet, Bloodline), hotelier Ian McShane (Deadwood), embracing his inner Al Swearingen, pragmatically running his Continental as smoothly as he did his Gem Saloon, and concierge Lance Reddick (The Wire, Fringe) who finally gets to play someone other than a ball-busting authority figure. A few new faces show up as well, including a long-awaited reunion with Laurence Fishburne that elicited giddy chuckles from the screening audience.
Finally, and most obviously, is the Keanu factor. He may be the butt of many acting jokes and there may be some truth to the opinion that as long as he says very little and just has to look great, the film has a good chance at success (see: The Matrix, Speed). However, there’s no denying that the dude is a phenomenal physical talent. Just check out this 3-gun tactical training video. In John Wick 2, he blasts his way through one attacker after another, each victim receiving one shot to the chest and one to the head with lightning-quick precision. Then there are the hand-to-hand fight sequences, the highlight of which is the ongoing showdown with Common involving a bone-crunching judo and jiu jitsu brawl, a firefight through a large fountain with water intermittently gushing then disappearing, and a ridiculously inconspicuous shootout with silencers in a crowded subway terminal.
After a ride like this, the John Wick franchise is destined to continue. With its relentless pacing, imaginative style, plenty of laughs, and some seriously insane action, fans will leave the theater grinning and ready to go again. By the time the credits roll the stage is all set for Chapter 3 and somehow the stakes are even higher. Sign me up!
Star Rating: 4½ out of 5 stars